I was there when Hillary Clinton helped lead the bipartisan effort to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
As Senator Ted Kennedy’s health care staff director, I had a front-row seat to the decades-long battle he fought to give every American access to quality, affordable health care. And thanks to his passion and his leadership, we were able to achieve some great things — even in the face of staunch Republican opposition — including health care reform and the creation of the Child Health Insurance Program. But Senator Kennedy didn’t wage this fight alone; he had a key ally inside the Clinton administration.
Hillary Clinton was there when it counted. As Senator Kennedy said, “The children’s health program wouldn’t be in existence today if we didn’t have Hillary pushing for it from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
It’s well known that as first lady, Hillary worked hard in pursuit of something that progressives had been seeking for generations: universal health care.
But you might not remember that after Republicans and special interests defeated the Clinton administration’s effort to pass national health insurance in 1994, Hillary refused to give up — and she turned her attention to other ways to help expand health care for American families.
Senator Kennedy and Senator Orrin Hatch together created the bipartisan plan to provide comprehensive health insurance to millions of children that became known as CHIP. Passing that program — a new entitlement — in a Gingrich-led Republican Congress was an incredible achievement, and it was one that wouldn’t have been successful without Mrs. Clinton’s commitment and hard work. As Nick Littlefield, Senator Kennedy’s top domestic policy adviser, said, Hillary was “a one-woman army inside the White House to get this done.”
Under Hillary’s leadership, the White House was there at three crucial moments that made all the difference. First, Senator Kennedy and others worked with the then–first lady to have President Clinton call for expanded coverage for children in the 1997 State of the Union and to include a children’s coverage policy in his budget proposal.
Second, when the Clinton administration negotiated the 1997 Balanced Budget Act with the Republican Congress, Hillary pushed for it to include billions of dollars in children’s health insurance — a program the Republican leadership strongly resisted. They wanted to cut back existing health programs like Medicare and Medicaid, not create new ones.
Finally, Senators Hatch and Kennedy pushed the amount for child health insurance up to $24 billion in the Senate Finance Committee mark-up of the Balanced Budget Act; Hillary directed the administration to fight for the full $24 billion in the conference with the House, and she was successful. This was no easy task, since the House Republicans were predisposed not to expand the program and only wanted the $16 billion proposal passed in the House. And as part of that critical negotiation, it was the White House, guided by Hillary, that made sure that children were guaranteed that the coverage they would receive under the program was both comprehensive and affordable.
But even with the new program signed into law, the work wasn’t done — and Hillary knew it.
It was up to the states to make sure low-income children could enroll and receive high-quality care. Hillary worked alongside Republican governors across the country, including Pennsylvania Gov. Ridge, New Jersey Gov. Whitman, and Utah Gov. Leavitt to promote the Insure Kids Now campaign and make sure the children who needed coverage were able to sign up.